It seems like a stupid question when you think of it. If you want to optimize your site for search engines, you would always want to end up on top, wouldn’t you? That’s where all the traffic is, and more traffic equals more revenues. Some statistics I read say that position 1 = 56%, position 2=13%, position 3= 10% and position 4= 4% of search volume, which means that there is a huge premium on being number 1.
But then I think of my own search behaviour, if I search for something you need to acquaint yourself with the data a little better before you can make a purchase decision. So, the first click tells you about the space, the second click gives you an idea about competition and by the third click you’re ready to convert. I don’t think it’s as simplistic as that (and I’m sure this varies significantly within industries), but it does take into account that you shouldn’t only steer on traffic, you should look at your conversions too.
To add a further layer of complexity it depends on the nature of the search how exhaustive the search will be, and which position is the best to aim for. For navigational searches its fairly immaterial, if someone is looking for you they will find you. For informational searches top 3 is good, depending on how high involvement the issue is (buying a car would be high involvement and would require a lot of searching around a topic). With transactional I’d go with my advice from above.
I’d love to know if anyone has experience with de-optimising their website to get a lower ranking and more conversions